There are those who believe that a world in which miracles happen is one in which we could not live without the unpredictability driving us insane. Others feel that a world without miracles is one in which we would not want to live, hope being driven thus to despair. I believe profoundly that miracles happen, but to expect them would, I think, be paradoxical, since miracles are by definition outside of our expectations of how things happen. They are mysterious, sometimes showy, sometimes subtle, sometimes secret, always astonishing.
Ten people suffering from leprosy were healed. One, a Samaritan man, came back to say thank you, praising God loudly as he did so. Jesus told him, after a few choice words about the others, “your faith has made you well.”
They are words which bring hope to many; following hard on the heels of his assurance that even a mustard seed faith has tremendous power. But they are dangerous words, too, which have been used to faith-shame the sick, the sad, the sorry, and which have deprived others of medical care. My faith contains within it the trust that God gave us the kind of brains that can dream up mind blowing medical technologies for a reason.
But I digress.
What did it mean for Jesus to tell the Samaritan that faith had healed him? What healed the other nine? What was the difference?
There is an awkward feel to the words that Jesus chooses to talk about the Samaritan’s return: “was none found to return except this foreigner?” Earlier in the gospel, the language of lost and found was used to describe repentance, those returned to God’s embrace. “This foreigner,” religiously suspect in standard Jewish judgement, nevertheless knew exactly whom to praise when good things befell him; he came back praising God loudly.
It is possible that when Jesus told him, “your faith has made you well,” if I am reading my Greek correctly (never a given, although a quick flick through the commentaries gives me confidence), a more precise translation might be, “your faith has saved you.”
It is possible that at this point, Jesus was talking less about the healing miracle that he shared with nine others than the miracle of his repentance, his gratitude, his praise of God which completed his healing, cured his soul as well as his body, restored him to wholeness.
Such an interpretation fits with Jesus’ concern for the restoration of lost sheep, lost sons, lost coins to the fold and the family. It explains why this man heard these words, while the oblivious nine wandered away amazed and bemused by their physical cure, which Jesus had rendered to them. It suggests that our salvation, our wholeness, our well being rests on more than physical fitness or a cure.
I believe in miracles. I believe in the power of prayer and the gift of faith which is a gift from God. I believe that being saved means, among other things, being restored to a place where we can praise God even in a world where leprosy exists, even after countless years of suffering, even when we don’t really understand what is happening or why. I believe that the faith which Jesus commended was the fundamental trust in God which made the Samaritan sure that all of the blessings of this life flow directly from God’s hand, which made him extravagantly grateful, which assured him that he was acceptable in Jesus’ sight, welcome to return to him, even a foreigner such as he.
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A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing, by Rosalind C Hughes, is available from Upper Room Books.https://bookstore.upperroom.org/Products/1921/a-family-like-mine.aspx